INTEGRATOR, the newsletter of Integrity/Toronto
copyright 2003 Integrity/Toronto.
The hard-copy version of this newsletter carries the ISSN 0843-574X
Integrity/Toronto Box 873 Stn F Toronto ON Canada M4Y 2N9
THE VOCATION OF A STRANGER
last of a series of reflections on strangers
by Sr Thelma-Anne ssjd
SAME SEX UNIONS IN AND OUT OF THE CHURCH
a panel discussion on same-sex unions at the Church of the Redeemer, Toronto
NO LONGER STANDING CAP-IN-HAND
presentation at Redeemer panel discussion
by David Townsend
TILL DEATH DO US PART
presentation at Redeemer panel discussion
by Jim Nason
CLAIMING THE BLESSING
working to promote wholeness in human relationships in the Episcopal Church USA,
by Integrity USA president Michael Hopkins
PREPARING FOR PRIDE
Anglicans in Toronto are getting ready to celebrate and to evangelise this Pride
by Sr Thelma-Anne ssjd
The vocation of a stranger is essentially no different from that of any Christian - to follow Christ, to witness to Christ, to be Christ in the world. However, the experience of being a stranger gives a particular quality to that vocation. Jesus was a stranger, and remains a stranger to us. He was an outsider; he did not belong to the elite, he was a workman, poor, a small town man. And this man, with no credentials, dared to judge and to challenge the powers that be, with all their assumptions and norms.
We know what happened to Jesus. At first, people followed him eagerly, expecting that he would fulfil their expectations. As he taught and healed and challenged the establishment, it seemed that he would change the have-nots into the haves, and so bring in the reign of God. But when he started to talk about the cost of discipleship, when he told his followers that in order to follow him they must "take up their cross", things looked different. Followers began to drift away in fear and disillusionment. At the end, they proved that they really supported the status quo. They joined their oppressors in clamouring for Jesus' execution.
And Jesus forgave them. He loved them to the end. On the cross, he died not just for those who accepted him, but for those who rejected him and sent him to his death. When he rose from the dead, he continued to love them, and to offer new life to all, without exception. It is the vocation of the stranger to follow Jesus the Stranger and share in his redemptive work.
Let me make it clear at the outset that, although I am writing particularly to those who have experienced rejection because of sexual orientation or because of advocacy on behalf of lesbians and gays, I am far from wanting to idealise us, or to demonise those on the other side of the present debate. They must be feeling like strangers in a church where they thought they were at home. We all have the propensity to defend ourselves by excluding the other.
I want to consider three aspects of the work which Christ entrusts to us all, but in a particular way to those of us who feel like outsiders, who have experienced suspicion, scorn, rejection, even violence, because we are "different". These are: to challenge, to suffer, and to forgive.
To challenge. The image of Jesus as "meek and mild" is a travesty. We have only to read the gospels to realise how passionate he was in denunciation of those who thought they had it altogether, who thought they were the sole custodians of tradition and truth, who were self-seekers instead of servants. Jesus could be angry, and knew how to express anger, in word and in deed, against those who put the letter of the law above compassion. We all crave security, power, control, and acceptance. We are willing to pay a high price for them, even to sacrifice our own integrity, our compassion, and our solidarity with our fellow-humans. Those who hold power fight to retain it; those who are powerless envy them. Jesus, from his perspective as a stranger, challenges both the haves and the have-nots. And so must we.
To suffer. Jesus challenged the false values of both the powerful and the powerless because he loved them. He himself embodied, and wanted to share with all, God's vision of what it means to be truly human. We can only begin to understand what sorrow it was to him to see how the divine image had been damaged, and how those whom he loved so deeply rejected the healing and restoration he offered, preferring the security of their own darkness to the blinding light of truth. They could not respond to his challenge to take up the cross and follow him. So he took on the role of the suffering servant, and walked to Calvary alone.
We who now share his risen life, still experience, both in ourselves and in those around us, the same alienation. We can pretend it is not there - that we have already arrived. We can anaesthetise ourselves to the pain of our conflicts and divisions, of our own sin and failure. Or we can embrace the suffering which is inevitable in following Christ as members of a church and a world which still have not got the message.
To forgive. In his love for us, Jesus spoke words of forgiveness from the cross, and continues to speak them. It has been said that in such a world as ours, love must take the form of forgiveness. To forgive is not to pretend that the injury we have received was not real, or that it doesn't really matter, or that we no longer feel the pain. That kind of denial simply leaves the hurt to fester and break out in destructive ways. As strangers, we attract more than the usual amount of misunderstanding, rejection and violence, and we must continue to name and to challenge such injustice. But if we are not to be poisoned by resentment, we must forgive, and keep on forgiving even when our forgiveness is rejected. We must leave the door open to dialogue where this is possible, and to reconciliation. We must forgive in the name of Christ, who has commanded us to love one another as he has loved us. In our present situation, it is easy to regard one another as enemies. Christ tells us to love our enemies. It is my hope that, despite the polarisation we Anglicans are experiencing, dialogue may go on and we can learn bear the tension of living in the same church with seemingly irreconcilable differences. But if this is not possible, let us continue to love and learn to forgive.
I want to end with words spoken by Margaret Silf in the retreat she led for the Sisters of St. John the Divine last October. "In his own lifetime Jesus of Nazareth lived out only one set of human circumstances. ... Together, we live out all human circumstances. The challenge is to do so redemptively, letting our life's pathways become aspects of Christ's Way. Each of us walks just one pathway through life, and that pathway is unique. If we do not walk it in a way that makes it a channel of grace, no-one else ever will. ...Your particular track, traced through your life events, your relationships, your unique mix of gifts and weaknesses - your track is becoming a channel of God's redeeming love, if you are willing to live it through him, with him and in him."
In January 2003, the Church of the Redeemer in Toronto (where Integrity/Toronto worships) had a panel discussion on same-sex unions, as part of the parish's ongoing Christian education programme. The panellists were all Redeemer parishioners with direct personal experience of same-sex unions in the church.
The discussion was advertised this way: "Despite enormous societal pressures not to do so, gay and lesbian Christians form loving, supportive, enduring partnerships. In those partnerships, they offer one another mutual comfort, joy, and support in life and faith. The church, with a few mostly timid exceptions, does not recognise them. What's wrong with this picture? And how do we fix it?"
Like any discussion along these lines, there were as many different viewpoints expressed as there were people in the room. This issue of Integrator has space for two of the three presentations. We'll print Bonnie Crawford-Bewley's paper in our next issue.
by David Townsend
I want to use my time on the soapbox to offer three points.
First, I hope that, at least in some communities of faith, we're ready to move beyond standing with cap in hand waiting for permission or for blessing from those who can't see that gay, lesbian, and otherwise queer Christians are already fully redeemed and fully incorporated members of the body of Christ. Our relationships are already a place where we see God at work in our lives. We're called to be the Body of Christ to one another by witnessing to the working of Grace in our own lives, and in the lives of one another.
If the institutional structures of the Church facilitate that witness, then they build up the Body of Christ, which is the blessed company of all faithful people. If they don't build up the Body of Christ, then it's judgement upon those institutions, not upon the people who the institutions oppress. I think it's high time we take seriously the reality of our own base communities of faith, and that we claim the language of the faith for ourselves in ways that we understand in speaking to one another.
Second, I want to suggest that if we are ready to stop asking for crumbs from the table, alternative rituals don't have to mean settling for second best. In the context of a base community that claims accepted Christian language and ritual for its own, I think alternative rituals have the power to be a kind of prophetic judgement upon oppressive structures within the church. I see them as a way of laying claim to the language of the faith -- and potentially as laying claim in ways that are very troubling indeed to those who'd prefer to exclude us from the use of the language of the faith at all.
I think witnessing to the reality of the bond between two people through the use of a house blessing, for example, or through another sanctioned service of the Church can make trouble within the Church in a prophetic way -- just as the appropriation of the language of the Exodus in African American spirituals was very troubling as well for white slaveholders in the American south 150 years ago. It's troubling because it circumvents the pretension of the ecclesiastical powers-that-be to say what is and also what is not legitimate Christian language and ritual. It's troubling because it flies in the face of the strictures that are placed upon us. It's troubling because we're saying, look, here's God in our lives. You have no right and no authority to decree whether God is in our lives, not even if you're the outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury. You can acknowledge God's presence, or you can refuse to do so. But in any case, we're in your midst. We're not going away. And through us, old words say something new. It springs forth. Do you not perceive it?
Finally, I'm loath to see us stop with asking the institutional Church for the right to marry, if framing the question in those terms means we won't also focus on just how badly much of Christianity deals with human sexuality in general. Our Christian understandings of human sexuality have hardly begun to incorporate the insights of modern psychology, anthropology, and sociology. Or common sense.
Let's not forget, the Church didn't invent marriage, it just accepted it, historically, as part of the world in which it had to function. Unquestioningly sanctioning the institution of marriage has, through much of Christian history, been a convenient way of keeping us from thinking about the troubling questions of human sexuality within the context of our Christian faith. If being allowed to marry means we don't go on with the hard work of figuring out how to discern the presence of God in our sexuality -- dare I say it? -- outside of marriage, then I'm not sure we'll end with a much less oppressive and exclusionary Church culture than we began with. Where, for example, can bisexual people fit and express fully who they truly are? Where do people fit who have chosen to enter into relationships that they don't imagine as necessarily lasting a lifetime, but which are mutually nurturing, supportive, and respectful? What about respectful, indeed, loving and faithful erotic relationships that aren't exclusive? Where do vocational celibates fit, for that matter, if they understand themselves not as having renounced their sexuality but as having accepted it as God's gift to them which they've directed into alternative channels? I don't think it's good enough to say the sexuality of any of these people falls below the bar of recognition in the culture of the Church.
By Jim Nason
Same-sex relationships -- like any relationship (heterosexual, parent to child, teacher to student, and so on) have to do with commitment. Whether or not gay marriages are recognised by the church, partnerships and commitments do occur. Many of these are for life.
Family, friends, the church and the state have mostly agreed that same-sex relationships are tolerated to some degree, but they are rarely talked about.
Because of this veil of secrecy (or lies), one of the most brutally or awkward moments for gay couples often occurs at the time of his or her loved one's death. At the funeral, the "secret" of the relationship is out.
But not really "out". The partner may still be rendered invisible. At my partner's funeral, I sat in the front pew, but might just as well not have been there. I was grieving spouse, but never mentioned. It wasn't until several friends and fellow parishioners approached me after Andrew's funeral, enraged and sad, that I noticed that (as usual) the church had rendered me invisible.
These are the same friends (gay and straight) who I'm constantly trying to convince that things have changed in the church. I tell them that Redeemer is a "home to all". They argue that the church is "crazy making": on one hand, the church accuses gays of being overly sexual and lacking discretion in our relationships, yet on the other hand, the Anglican Church refuses to acknowledge the relationships of those who decide to marry.
More and more angry and sad, I left Redeemer shortly after Andrew's funeral, and went to Metropolitan Community Church. At the "gay" church, homosexuality is the foundation of what brings parishioners together. They are not shy to hold hands or to kiss, there is the spirit of celebration and freedom. I attended Canada's first gay weddings at MCCT
One's church community is meant to be a safe haven. The church is meant to be a place of worship and grace period of place to worship and celebrate diversity. Andrew's family loved him dearly, but often struggled with their son's sexuality. There were many hot debates about what the Bible says about homosexuality. Consequently, we had to find subtle ways of the acknowledging one another. In a poem I had written early in our relationship, in shock at my good fortune, the last stanza reads:
... we talk as we pedal north -- why poverty?
Why so many hateful interpretations of religion?
Folded in upon themselves, why do buds bother to open?
In answer of my own question, I'd argue, we "bothered to open" because it is God's plan for us to have love in our life. To celebrate our life and love in its many forms. At Andrew's mother's request, I included the poem in the leaflet at his funeral. She may or may not have understood the pun on "buds".
I came to the Anglican Church out of an appreciation for its mandate toward social justice. However, when the Gathering [parish newsletter ] article celebrated Andrew's life and I was left out of the celebration, it was one more statement to me, as a gay man, that I'm not welcome. Or that I am welcome, but only under a veil of silence.
Individuals at Redeemer supported and loved Andrew and me. Some even celebrated us as family. Many even understand that gays and lesbians don't want special treatment, they just want to be the same, to be acknowledged within an inclusive church community as God's children, without judgement or shame.
Death is part of the life cycle. For many individuals, finding a life-mate is another rite of passage that is critical to a particular kind of completeness. Not every person wants to be married, or even be in an intimate relationship, but some of us do.
Andrew told me that he spent much of his life hiding who he was from his church, family, and community. However, in planning for his funeral, he knew he would not be judged by God for how he lived his life. He knew that God's plan for him included me. He was learning to be proud as a gay man, and beginning to see the challenges around his sexuality as a blessing -- an opportunity to heal himself and others. As if in a wink from the grave, he chose psalm 139 for his funeral:
For you yourself created my inmost parts,
you knit me together in my mother's womb.
I will thank you because I am marvellously made.
Claiming the Blessing is an intentional collaborative effort of the leading Episcopal GLBT organisations in the USA, including Integrity. They are co-operating to promote wholeness in human relationships, to abolish prejudice and oppression, and to heal the rift between sexuality and spirituality in the Church. This year, they are working toward obtaining approval of a liturgical blessing of the faithful, monogamous relationship between two adults of any gender at ECUSA's General Convention 2003.
The Rev Michael Hopkins, President of Integrity USA, made these remarks at the Claiming the Blessing conference in November 2002.
Why are we here?
We are here to be clear. We are here to be transparent. We are here to witness. We are here because the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit compel us to be here. We are here because we love the Church.
This morning I first want to speak a few words to the Church at large and, in particular, certain portions of it who wonder if this Conference is such a good idea. My purpose is to be crystal clear and utterly transparent.
First to the Church in general:
We are absolutely committed to this Church and we are absolutely committed to the continuance of as broad a diversity -- including theological -- as is possible for us to maintain together.
This commitment is, in part, a commitment to continued messiness and frustration. We understand this to be true even if the General Convention passes the resolution that we are advocating, to formulate a Book of Occasional Services rite for the blessing of faithful, monogamous unions other than heterosexual marriage. We know and accept that such a rite will not be used or even allowed to be used universally.
We are quite deliberately advocating for a rite whose use would be optional for the sake of the unity of the Church we love. We believe in our heart of hearts that our relationships are equal to heterosexual relationships, whether or not the term "marriage" is appropriate for them, and so, in our heart of hearts, we believe the rite used to publicly celebrate them should be equal. But that is not what we are asking for.
We are compromising, moderating our position, for the sake of the Church. We do so in the spirit of a resolution from the 1920 Lambeth Conference (Resolution 9:VIII): "We believe that for all, the truly equitable approach to union is by way of mutual deference to one another's consciences." We offer compromise in the spirit of that same resolution, which said, "We can only say that we offer it in all sincerity as a token of our longing that all ministries of grace, theirs and ours, shall be available for the service of our Lord in a united church."
These words were said in the context of ecumenical dialogue, but they are appropriate for our current internal dialogue, which looks far more like ecumenical dialogue -- dialogue across deep and serious divisions -- did in the 1920s.
Liberals and conservatives, progressives and traditionalists, must learn to live together in this Church or there will be no Church in which we can to live. But learning to live together must mean "mutual deference" not moratoriums or some insistence that we all convert to being "moderates."
My second message to the church at large is that we are not going anywhere. Gay and lesbian Christians make up a significant portion of the Episcopal Church in the USA. We will continue to do so after General Convention 2003 no matter what happens. We will not attempt to get our way by threatening to leave. I ask those on all sides of this debate to make this commitment as well.
Now three comments especially for our conservative brothers and sisters.
First, we do not desire for you to go away. Yes, some sympathisers with our movement have said from time to time that it would be just as well if you did. Of course, some of yours have said the same about us. Let us together commit ourselves to finding every way possible to move forward with our debate without threatening either schism or purge. It is simply not necessary for us to do so. [...]
Second, we do not desire to force same-sex blessings on you or anyone. We do desire to enable them in those places where the church is ready to receive them as a blessing but is not able to because of an understandable desire for some level of national recognition. Of course we will continue to work towards local communities desiring to bless same-sex unions. Of course you will work to keep them from doing so. We ought to be able to live with each other's efforts on that level.
Third, we do challenge you to stop scapegoating lesbian and gay Christians for every contemporary ill in the Church, particularly for our current state of disunity or the potential for the unravelling of the Anglican Communion. You know as well as we do that the issues are far deeper than human sexuality. They are issues of scriptural interpretation and authority, including the very different polities that exist in different provinces of the Communion and whether or not local autonomy is a defining characteristic of Anglicanism. Issues of human sexuality are just one tip of that very large iceberg and if sexuality went completely away tomorrow, the iceberg would still be there. [...]
This Conference is not about getting our way or else. This Conference is a means to further the healthy debate within the Church, to deepen it on a theological level, to begin to articulate how we see the blessing of same-sex unions as a part of the Church's moving forward in mission rather than hindering mission. We believe that it is time for the church to claim the blessing found in the lives of its faithful lesbian and gay members and to further empower them for the mission of the Church. We are trying to find a way forward in this endeavour that holds as much of this church we love together as possible. We ask all our fellow-Episcopalians to join us even if they disagree with us.
Integrity has been marching in Toronto's Pride parade since the mid-1980s. In recent years, we've been joined by various supportive parishes, behind the PROUD ANGLICANS banner. Last year's parade saw the best Anglican presence to date, and those of us who marched are working now on improving this witness still further. We're planning on having a large float in the 2003 parade, for the first time. We'd like as many marchers as possible to accompany the float, carrying Proud Anglicans signs, with parish banners, and handing out cards that list parishes were LGBT people can be sure of a welcome.
There's now a website which will support this evangelism, and repeats the listing. You can find it at www.geocities.com/proudanglicans. One of the questions Integrity receives most often is "where would be a good, supportive parish for me to go?", and the website (which is linked from the Integrity/Toronto website) will quickly provide answers.
Please visit the site, and if you can think of other parishes which should be added to the list, let us know. Even better, please plan on joining us on Pride Day (Sunday 29 June), maybe even with your parish banner. Not only is it primary evangelism, sharing the Good News about Jesus, it's a lot of fun too.
There will also be an ecumenical service, Praying in Pride Week, on Wednesday 25 June at 7:30pm at St Andrew's United Church at 117 Bloor St East. That would be a great time to meet people in other denominational LGBT caucuses.